JAKARTA: Indonesian authorities on Thursday began an investigation into a series of violations by Iranian and Panamanian tankers, which were seized on Sunday over suspected illegal oil transfer in the country’s waters.
The Maritime Security Agency (Bakamla) impounded the two supertankers in waters bordering the South China Sea, off Pontianak, West Kalimantan province.
The Panamanian-flagged MT Freya, managed by a Shanghai-based company, and Iranian-flagged MT Horse, were approached by the agency’s patrol ship, which detected an idle signal indicating that the automatic identification system of the vessels was turned off.
They were caught conducting a ship-to-ship fuel transfer from MT Horse to MT Freya, with hoses connected between them and oil spilling into the water. Bakamla said that the tankers seemed to have deliberately covered their hulls to conceal their identities.
The two tankers are now anchored in the waters off the agency’s base in Batam, Riau Islands province, near Singapore. Their crew members are under arrest but are allowed to remain on their respective vessels.
“We were collecting and completing the data to determine which allegations constitute administrative and criminal offenses, before we hand the case over to law enforcement agencies for further investigation,” Bakamla western zone commander, First Admiral Hadi Pranoto, told reporters after a meeting with an interagency from the police, customs and immigration.
He said that crew members of the ships — 25 Chinese nationals on MT Freya and 36 Iranian nationals on MT Horse — are facing a number of charges, including the violation of their right to innocent passage, being in Indonesian waters illegally, turning off their identification systems, illegal transfer of fuel, illegal anchorage, polluting the water with oil, and not flying their national flags.
Iran has not commented on the case since Monday and has asked Indonesia to provide details about the tanker seizure.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, said on Wednesday that its embassy in Jakarta has asked Indonesia to investigate the case involving its nationals on MT Freya in a “lawful manner.”
“The embassy expressed concerns to Indonesia, asking it to verify the situation of the Chinese seafarers and formally notify the Chinese side as soon as possible, investigate the case in a lawful and just manner, and guarantee the health, safety and legitimate rights and interests of the Chinese nationals,” Lijian said, as quoted in a statement by the Chinese Foreign Ministry.